Mike Pence cast a tie breaking vote on March 29th, rescinding an Obama-era regulation pertaining to the funding of healthcare providers that offer abortion services. With a vote of 51 to 50 in favor of nullifying the rule, the bill will now go to President Trump who is expected to sign it. A tie breaking vote was necessary after Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted with Democrats against repealing the measure.
Republicans rescinded the measure (and about a dozen others) using an obscure legislative tool known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA) which allows Congress to nullify regulations 60 legislative days after their enactment using only a simple majority. Additionally, CRA prevents the writing of rules that are “substantially the same.”
The Obama-era rule prevented states from cutting off Title X family planning funds to organizations like Planned Parenthood that offer abortion services. Though federal money doesn’t generally go directly toward abortions, it can be funneled to organizations that provide such services.
Since 1970, Title X has been providing family planning grants to those who lack the means to purchase health insurance and has helped more than 4 million people access vital care at 4,000 health centers nationwide. Additionally, this funding is essential for low-income women seeking birth control, cancer screenings and STI tests, to name a few.
The rule prevented states from banning the use of Title X-supported healthcare facilities due to their providing legal abortion services. New York Times reported that, during the public comment period that takes place while a rule is being written, 91 percent of the 145,000 comments expressed support for the measure.
Arguments in Favor of Obama-era Rule
During debate, Democrats urged Republicans to consider the ramifications of their actions. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) had this to say: “As a direct result of their choices today, extreme politicians in states across the country will have greater power to take away women’s choices.” And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) made the point that nullifying this rule would negate certain Trump campaign promises.
Arguments in Favor
Republicans retorted by suggesting that Obama’s measure actually hurt local communities. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) repeated a common Republican trope, saying “This regulation is an unnecessary restriction on states that know their residents a lot better than the federal government.”
Similarly, Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said that the Obama-era rule “attempted to empower federal bureaucrats in Washington and silence our states.”
Effects on the People
But will certain states help their own residents? After Kansas blocked Title X funding in 2014, the number of women with access to vital care like cancer screenings, birth control, well-women exams and STI tests (all provided by Title X facilities) decreased by more than 14,000. And according to the New England Journal of Medicine, after Texas excluded Planned Parenthood from Title X funding, the birth rate shot up by an astonishing 27 percent in those communities that previously had access to contraception.
Finally, according to Guttmacher.com, in 2010, Title X funding helped prevent 3,700 cases of cervical cancer and 2,100 cervical cancer deaths. That’s not to mention the 53,000 chlamydia infections and 8,800 gonorrhea infections avoided by similar funding. In effect, the removal of the Obama-era rule could put lives at risk for ideological and political reasons.